In May 2011, a charity called the Smile Rescue Fund for Kids was started. Today, we get to hear the story of one of the first children whose life was changed by the organization.
When she was younger, 12-year-old Saline Atieno’s face was disfigured after a battle with Noma – a flesh eating bacteria that attacks the soft and bone tissues of the face. The disfiguration made it difficult for Atieno to eat, drink, and even breathe.
In 2010, Dr. Leon Klempner crossed paths with Atieno in her Kenyan village and couldn’t help but pick up her case. With funding from the Smile Rescue Fund, Atieno was flown into the states and underwent 10 reconstructive facial surgeries.
“Noma attacked her face, ate through her skin, through her upper jaw, destroyed her nose and destroyed her palate…That’s the medical part,” Dr. Klempner said. “The social part is she was basically a recluse, she had no friends, she didn’t go to school.”
Klempner and his team reconstructed a nose, upper lip, and a palate for Atieno. Here is a picture of the girl before any procedures and directly following one of her recent ones:
Though she will return to the states in the future for a few touch-up procedures, Atieno expressed her gratitude for Klemper in a note she gave to him before departing for Kenya.
“No words can adequately express how I feel. You have not only taught me your language, and fixed my face, you have taught me how it feels to be taken care of and unconditionally loved. I never expected that. Goodbye- for now,” she said.
In Kenya, Atieno will attend a boarding school where she will receive an education, housing, and three meals per day. Her school will all be paid for with money from the Smile Rescue Fund.
Dr. Klempner expressed gratitude recently for the profound effect Atieno had on his life.
“She’s touched our lives and exposed us to what exists elsewhere and instilled this sense of gratitude in those of us that have been involved with her,” said Dr. Klempner. “She’s been an inspiration to us and really a gift, she’s enriched our lives.”